During the past two decades in Israel, the number of women holding educational leadership positions at the elementary and secondary school levels has steadily increased. Simultaneously, the highly centralized Israeli educational system has begun a slow process toward system-wide diversity. The resulting structure is a two-tier system in which women principals are highly regarded at the local level yet isolated from major political and policy decisions. Individual school sites as highly feminized work organizations are embedded in power structures that have not altered. Consequently, an increasing gender segregation and devaluing of educational leadership creates a system that often ignores these leaders’ highly effective leadership styles.
What happens when women are no longer numerically underrepresented in educational leadership positions? This chapter presents the case of female principals in Israel where women are no longer a minority in the principalship, and reviews the macro-level context that explains the rapid feminization of the principalship. It also presents the results of research that examines the impact of this feminization on schools as workplaces for teachers and principals. 1 The story of Israel illustrates a case in which the numbers of women in the principalship have increased but the political, professional and bureaucratic power structures continue to be male-dominated. Consequently, meaningful changes are not forthcoming and gender segregation, at different levels of the hierarchy, perseveres. 2
Research on women in educational administration indicates, rather consistently, that female principals differ from their male counterparts, and these differences suggest that women are uniquely suited for educational leadership positions. Studies indicate the typical female principal is better qualified for the job than the typical male principal; woman are better educated, older, and have had more teaching experience (Gross and Trask 1976, Hemphill et al. 1962). This body of literature suggests that female principals are more often involved in both participatory and supervisory activities than male principals (Shakeshaft 1987, Fishel and Pottker 1977), are more concerned with instructional processes and learning, and interact more intensively with teachers when compared with males (Gilberston 1981, Ortiz and Marshall 1988). Female administrators also are viewed as more effective in representing the school to the wider community and interacting with parents (Sadker et al. 1991). Additional marked differences between male and female principals include women’s ability to work with others, their sense of caring about students and teachers, and their highly effective communication styles (Shakeshaft 1987, Hemphill et al. 1962, Tibbetts 1980).